PICKET lines have formed outside Warwickshire College Group (WCG) sites as staff went on strike to demand better wages.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) who work at WCG’s seven sites – including Leamington College, Rugby College, Warwick Trident College and Moreton Morrell College – walked out yesterday and today (Tuesday March 9), seeking a five per cent annual pay award in 2018/19.
Staff voted by 76 per cent in favour of strike action.
The union says college bosses have failed to “make a decent pay offer to staff or address key issues such as excessive workloads” – pointing to a £7,000 pay gap between teachers in colleges and schools, and a 25 per cent decline in the value of staff’s pay over the last decade.
But WCG said the group needed more Government funding to give staff a pay rise.
On the picket line at Rugby College, UCU branch health and safety representative Tracy Gudgeon said they were fighting for the future of their colleges.
She said: “No other workers in education or the public sector have suffered as much as we have.
“We’d much rather be teaching, but this is really important. Cuts are making it so difficult for the colleges to keep and attract lecturers.
“In Rugby, for example, we’re the only further education provider in the area. If the kids don’t get into a sixth form, we’re their only other option.
“We’re being forced to keep cutting our provision and its just getting to a level where the kids are having no choice.”
She called on the college to enter into meaningful negotiations.
UCU regional official Anne O’Sullivan said: “Strike action is always a last resort, but if colleges won’t work with us to prioritise staff then we are left with no other choice.
“Colleges who engage with us on the pay and conditions of their staff will receive a positive hearing, but those who refuse should not be surprised at the anger of their staff.
“Pay in further education is a problem, and it is time for colleges to get serious and do something about it.”
A WCG spokesperson said colleges would stay open with ‘minimal disruption’ during the strikes.
They said: “It is widely acknowledged the Government needs to increase funding to enable colleges to reward hardworking staff through annual pay awards.
“WCG has ‘gifted’ all staff some additional holiday, while ensuring further financial pressures are not created through increasing pay costs.
“We hope the funding situation for colleges changes in the near future.
“While we recognise the right for UCU to take industrial action, it is always disappointing when our students’ learning is interrupted.”
The strikes are part of a wider series of walkouts also including UCU members at Coventry College and the City of Wolverhampton College.